Puu o Kaiaka
Puu Koia
Puu Lua
Puu Maninikolo

Sun, Jun 8, 2014
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 6


The previous day's outing to Kamakou had done a number on me, I had to admit. My forearms and shoulders were sore from all the fern and tree branches I had bent or snapped on my way, many hundreds I imagine. My legs were unusually sore in muscles that normally don't get much use - those used to pull my feet out of the bogs they found themselves in. Having done the the three summits I had counted on, I decided to spend the day touring around the island, tagging a handful of easy summits as a way to find myself in the forgotten backwaters of Molokai. Not that any portions of the island are experiencing an economic boom. Some years ago the Four Seasons pulled out because it couldn't develop portions of its land. In 2008 the Molokai Ranch (only about a mile from where I'm staying on the west end in Maunaloa) closed up because they couldn't get permission to sell luxury lots from their property holdings. Maunaloa itself is a barely-alive town after Dole closed pineapple production in 1975. Jobs were lost, people complained, but the bottom line seems to be the locals don't want Molokai to become another Oahu or Maui. I have to agree. It has its own charm and life is slow here. There are few gas stations, restaurants and markets, but the place seems loaded with churches. Most places close early on Sundays or don't open at all. So a backwater place on a backwater island is a pretty well forgotten place indeed. None of the summits was very difficult to get to, the hardest being just over half a mile from where I parked. Most were less than a quarter mile. None was particularly prominent, really just small rises that dot the island landscape. Some had good views but most were tree-covered, blocking any chance of one.

Kuinihu / Okoli / Puu o Kaiaka / Puu Koia

All of these are located off Kalua Koi Rd which reaches to beaches on Molokai's west shoreline. The first two are located in the grassy uplands, just off the road, taking only a few minutes. Both are open to views of the Pacific off the west shore, Oahu just hazily visible in the background. Most of the surrounding country is ranchland. If these were CA ranches, the grass would be mowed to the dirt from overgrazing. Here the cattle graze among tall grasses in a more sustainable manner. I don't know if that's by design or there simply isn't enough of a market for Molokai beef.

I next drove down towards the beach where the second two summits are located just onshore. Puu o Kaiaka is reached via an old dirt road with a chain across it at the end of the pavement. Grassy with some trees, it has an excellent view of Papohaku Beach to the southwest. Puu Koia is located at the other end of this beach and is easily reached from a public beach access at the end of Kaulalli Way. It overlooks a rocky bay to the SW that looks like something on the Monterey coastline. I met a guy about 40yrs old long term camping here with two young daughters, one about 7yrs, the other maybe 3yrs. He was a third generation Mokokaian, though obviously caucasian. If there was a wife about, I didn't see her and she wasn't mentioned. He waxed philosophically about Molokai, the Garden of Eden and life in general. Getting a job and a neat little house were clearly not priorities. He had come out from his camp to talk to me because he was surprised to find another soul out here climbing his little overlook hill. He was really surprised to find I wasn't from Molokai and this was my first visit - who comes out here to climb this lost lump of rock, sand and trees? He seemed to take this as a sign that I was smitten by Molokai and would be back, perhaps for good. I think he was kinda lonely and needed some adult conversation.

Puu Lua / Hahaeule / Kauluwai

These three summits are located along SR470 in the north-central part of the island. I drove to the end of 470 hoping to do the hike down to Kalaupapa National Historic Park. It is the site of the infamous leper colony made famous by the selfless heroics of Fr. Damien in the late 1800s. Unfortunately the trail and park are closed to the general public. The only way to see it is by invitation of one of the residents (there are still a few sufferers of Hansen's Disease (the PC way to refer to lepers) living there) or by taking the tour managed by the park concessionaire (also a resident of Kalaupapa). Unfortunately no tours on Sunday, so the hike was a no-go. All was not lost. At the road's end is the Palaau State Park with a couple of short maintained trails and one of the summits.

I first visited the Kalaupapa Lookout. Couldn't hike there, but the overlook provides a splendid place to view it. The last landmass created on Molokai, the 4sq. mile penninsula was created when the shield volcano Kauhako erupted out of the sea and created the land adjacent to the sea cliffs on Molokai's north side. It seemed a perfect place for King Kamehameha IV to banish lepers to because of its isolation (the trail was created many years later). Too bad he didn't think to provide those banished with basic necessities.

I next visited the sacred site called Phallic Rock (they didn't have the Hawaiian name for it, oddly). It's about six feet in height and looks rather phallic along with the jewels at the base. There were a number of offerings left at the base including shells, necklaces, and some traditional Hawaiian offerings wrapped in leaves. A sign nearby mentions its great sacred-ness, asking that one doesn't leave coins or other disrespectful items. I just took a picture.

From Phallic Rock I hiked through a dry forest to the summit of Puu Lua a short distance away. A crudely built item looking sort of like a lean-to was found among acres of dry pine needles and forest duff (oddly this was not unlike a Sierra pine forest on the west side, only the trees were smaller and more densely packed). A minute later I was back at the parking lot.

The second summit was a short distance down the road. Hahaeule is located in a small residential area. I parked the car and walked up to a house where a woman was walking down the driveway. I asked her if it would be ok to walk up to the highpoint above her house. She pointed out that there was another residents up the road but kindly offered to let me walk through her property to the backside where I could bushwhack up from there. Molokai folks are quite nice. I spoke to her husband, Paul, as well who thought it was equally a fine idea. They had a couple of rugrats I could hear screaming around the property somewhere, but this didn't seem to concern the parents. Nor did they seem concerned about liability issues from all the junk lying about the property I had to manuever through and over. Wouldn't it be nice if more folks could be this laid back? The hike to the top was somewhat troublesome, as I had to spend a good deal of time hunched over to get through the densely-packed slope of small trees. The summit featured some gigantic cedars that had seen better days. Views were barely possible if one stood on tiptoe to see over the trees. Fun for the locals encounter, a bust otherwise.

The third summit was more interesting. Located about half a mile WSW of the second, Kauluwai is home to the Kualuwai Cemetery, a small, mostly forgotten plot of land adjacent to the Ironwood Hills Golf Club. The access road is cut off from vehicle travel by years-worth of downfall. The 7-8 plots are all members of the Cooke family born around the time of WWI. The last was buried in 2003 and that's probably the last time someone drove up the hard-to-find spur road leading off from the golf club road.

Puu Maninikolo

This summit is located above the fire station in East Kaunakakai. This is the largest town on the island which means there are two gas stations, a small market, an Ace Hardware store and perhaps a couple dozen small businesses catering to the modest tourist trade. The wharf is located here, with ferrys running from Maui. Though touted as the longest wharf in Hawaii, there isn't much to it - I drove out to see about finding lunch there, but there's little besides the ferry terminal and some fishing related businesses. The summit was rather crappy as scrambles go. The steep slope reaching to if from north of the fire station has loose rocks hidden in tall grass to make hiking somewhat hazardous. An abandoned station wagon has been sitting idle to one side. Sharp pokey things jabbed at me for insult. A so-so view of town to the west. I can't recommend this one.

Kapalikoi / Wai'ele

I drove back to the west side of the island and explored south of the town of Maunaloa. Here I discovered miles of dirt roads that I explored with my Jeep, eventually driving down to the southern coast at Hale O Lono Harbor. The harbor has been abandoned commercially and gone to ruin, but it is still a popular destination for locals to visit for camping, picnics, swimming and Sunday relaxing. There were dozens that had driven in on the rough road for 4-5mi to reach it, attesting to its popularity. Along the road in the upper grasslands were four summits that I found on my GPS, though two of them had no prominence and didn't qualify on ListsOfJohn which I use as my standard for counting summits.

Kapalikoi was located about half a mile SSE of the Maunaloa Cemetery which itself was located at the end of a spur road to the east. Tall grass and sparse trees characterized the slopes, with cow trails making travel somewhat easier when I could find them. The summit is little more than a few rocks with barely 20ft of prominence, but one can view the island highpoint of Kamakou along with the neighboring islands of Maui and Lanai to the east and southeast, respectively. Much of the west half of the island's southern coast can be seen as well.

Wai'eli proved more hum-drum, an easy hike but no good views to speak of. Better was one of the non-summits, Pohakuloa, located on the gentle Southwest Slope of the main crest on the Island's west side. Located in the middle of a treeless, grassy savanah (cattle grazing nearby), the "summit" featured a small rock and concrete structure that appears to have been built by surveyors in 1932. The other non-summit, Puu Hakina, was one of the few places in Hawaii where I have seen significant wildflowers. There were small, yellow daisy-esque things, nothing special, but the covered large areas quite picturesquely.

Tomorrow is another travel day, heading to Oahu for a week. Hopefully I'll have time after getting there to get to the top of something significant...


Don Nelsen comments on 04/01/15:
Hey Bob,
Great write up of your Molokai adventures and other HI treks. Hope you found our reports and tracks helpful. Is Kamakou a great hike, or what!I'm off to Maui again in a couple months to bag a few more points. Glad to have met you at the Mt. Grant event in '11.
They were hugely helpful, Don. No way I'd have made it without your trailblazing efforts and GPS track.

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